Grifters, The/A,A-

HBO/1993/114m/ANA 1.85

         A film of extraordinary power that pulls no punches, The Grifters is not to be missed. From the Jim Thompson novel, a great writer of dark and no-nonsense fiction, the film with a screenplay by Donald Westlake, even bests the source material. Capturing the essential dark nature of the author's world, The Grifters is about those hungry characters on the edge of society involved in the con, the short con and the long con. This is not the sunny appealing world of The Sting or The Flim-Flam Man. A down and dirty depiction of the characters that inhabit this world, no film I can recall captures the essence of a sordid group so well.

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     Roy plays the short con, hustling sailors in a crooked crap game on a train, looking for likely suckers in bars to pick up a couple of bucks from. He's involved with Myra, a vivacious woman on the loose, who practices her own form of the con. And Roy's mom Lily lays off money for bookmakers at the track to cut down the odds on longshots. When Lily ambles into town after an eight year separation from Roy, the world of these three grifters turns upside down and inside out.
     Stephen Frears directs with supreme confidence, eliciting stunning performances from all his lead actors. John Cusack uses his innocent screen charm to maximum effect as Roy Dillon, the likeable yet sleazy small time grifter. When Cusack looks a bartender mark in the eye while passing off a ten dollar bill as a twenty, you can feel the con behind the facial facade. The edginess, the details of look and movement, are captured perfectly by this actor in top form. While essentially a role that could have been over the top in competition with the other fine actors in this film, Cusack plays the most powerful scenes generously, giving to and complimenting every actor he shares a scene with. Angelica Huston is an acting parlay cast as Lily Dillon, Roy's very young mother. Sexual sparks fly in every scene between Cusack and Huston. Lily is a survivor in a dark world and the actress is able to convert her own experience into defining characteristics for Lily. Huston has never been better than here and received a well-deserved Academy Award Nomination for her role as Lily. Annette Bening,  enticingly amoral as Roy's girl friend Myra, completes the trio of grifters that take from each other and anyone else within their reach. Bening captured an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress as the sexy and sleazy screen siren Myra. The fourth stunning performance comes from veteran actor Pat Hingle as the incredibly frightening Bobo Justice, Lily's mob boss. Hingle brings a chilling, casual approach to violence, making Justus a memorable character in a couple of short scenes.
     The elements of The Grifters add up to a riveting viewing experience. Sex, violence, incest, the con and the hustle are delivered in ample doses and though there is no obvious worth to these characters, you can't help but get sucked into their world. Top it all off with a dynamite Elmer Bernstein score and you're one lucky movie lover to have found your way to The Grifters.
     HBO has delivered an excellent transfer for The Grifters. The widescreen images are available either anamorphic or letterbox at a 1.85 aspect ratio. There's excellent detail consistency and the image is sharp enough to expose the inner workings behind a character's eyes. Colors are accurate with varying flesh tones. Elmer Bernstein's score is thrilling on the remastered 5:1 Dolby Digital DVD. Ambient detail is subtle but involving. The Grifters  is a classic and a must for every collection!









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